There's no going into 'I Spit On Your Grave' without some awareness of what you're about to see. The title alone is an act of disrespect -- a foul, blunt disregard for the sanctity of human life. Steven R. Monroe's new remake of the 1978 rape revenge cult classic lives up to that nasty title, delivering a vicious piece of black-hearted entertainment that challenges the very concept of a "guilty pleasure."
Deplorable sexual violence is visited upon our heroine (Jennifer, played by the gorgeous Sarah Butler), at the hands of a gang of backwater thugs (Chad Lindberg, Daniel Franzese, Jeff Branson, Rodney Eastman, and the exceptionally villainous Andrew Howard) for roughly half of the film's unflinching run-time. Then, the tables turn; the victim becomes the aggressor, and for the remainder of the film you're "treated" to acts of vengeance so unspeakable they make the 'Saw' movies look like a game of Mouse Trap. There's almost no moment in the film when something explicitly horrifying isn't happening.
Weirdly, all of this is carried out with the spit and polish of a modern day studio horror flick, creating something that's both legitimately depraved and oddly inauthentic. The film is slickly effective in its shock value and little else, which raises the question if that's the only reason for this film to exist -- shock. The violence is the centerpiece, detached from emotional fulfillment or narrative force. 'I Spit On Your Grave' is simply gross for the sake of being gross.
Is that so wrong? In this way, it should satisfy skeptical fans of the original and any horror fans who prefer the kills to the characterization. If a movie is best judged on its own goals, then 'I Spit On Your Grave' can't be condemned for being something that it's not. It's intentionally, efficiently ugly, through and through.
If there's one real missed opportunity, it's in the performance of Sarah Butler. She's easy to buy as a victim, harder to buy as a dirt-faced avenging angel. It's not about her physicality, as much as it is a shift in something internal, an energy that seems lacking in her character as she exacts her revenge. As much fearless emotion as she puts into every early scene while being attacked, she's relatively docile as an aggressor. Sure, the plan she carries out is savage, but she's not necessarily a savage. If the intent was to portray Jennifer as somewhat dead inside, then tossing her a couple of glib, vengeful one-liners was really counter-productive. 'I Spit On Your Grave' could only have been better if Butler was able to dig down and get in touch with her own inner animal.
Monroe may be one to watch after this, but let's hope that his next project includes a little more meat with his potatoes. This version of 'I Spit On Your Grave' will surely find an all-new cult audience, hungry for its specific brand of mean and nasty, but it offers little beyond a lot of rape and a lot of murder. Admittedly, the movie can be thrilling, but its baseness means that those thrills come at a queasy and uncomfortable price -- human suffering as pop entertainment.